Embrace this Moment
In June, news headlines screamed Defund the Police, Police Station Burned, Officers Ambushed. In an instant, the weight of public opinion seems to have turned against law enforcement. You may know numerous officers near the end of their careers who, feeling the burden of that perceived public sentiment, have decided to retire now, rather than later.
You are being challenged like never before to examine your personal commitment to your profession. As a law enforcement leader, you equally are challenged to find the narrow path that allows you to staunchly support and defend the right actions of your agency personnel while wholeheartedly embracing the needs of the community you serve. They are not at all mutually exclusive.
Realize that you do not police the entire country, but only one small piece of it. You may have endured some incidents directed at your equipment, buildings, or personnel. The people engaged in those criminal acts even may be members of your community, not imported anarchists. Hold those people accountable. However, just as you do not want people to judge you based on the criminal actions of a few bad officers, you do not want to turn your heart against segments of the public who merely are angry or frustrated and legally expressing their opinions.
Embrace this moment with a deliberate strategic communications plan. Listen to your community with determined compassion in the same way you want them to hear you with open minds. Create opportunities for dialogue, both formal and informal. These are times to press forward with community relations, as opposed to shrinking back behind bulletproof reception windows. Have strong representation at community meetings, wherever they are held safely. Engage children and teens with new activities created for this socially distant existence. Motivate your officers to get out of their vehicles, talk with people, and listen to their concerns and opinions. Then, debrief your officers so your command staff receive fresh feedback from the streets.
Do not fail to leverage your social media presence, as well. Like all your communications, messages sent out on social media must support your overall strategic goals. Start two-way conversations on Facebook, post officer “tweet-a-longs" to show what your officers encounter during a shift, and share plenty of content on your YouTube channel. These free platforms can have a priceless impact on your community relations.
Realize that national headlines may not reflect your local reality. As a law enforcement leader, if you rely on the news to inform your heart or your communications decisions, you will miss the great opportunities that will help bind your agency to the people you serve.
Stephen D. Jones, an instructor in the Leadership Programs and Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.